Thursday, 28 October 2010

Canterbury, Kent

Far be it for the likes of me to pass comment on Christ Church, otherwise known as Canterbury Cathedral, other than to say it is a must see. I went with my 8 year old son and 19 year old daughter and both were equally impressed, not something I could say about many churches.

Apart from anything else Arthur Mee waxes far more eloquently than I ever could.

Flickr set.

The Crown and Glory of Canterbury

We who love our Motherland should all be Canterbury pilgrims. The marvellous shrine of Thomas Becket is no more; that wondrous thing of gold and rubies and precious stones has perished in the dust. It was worth a king’s ransom, they say, but what still stands is worth much more; it is worth a people’s ransom.

It stands majestic, this great tower, looking out across the most sacred piece of our English earth. It looks across the fields where the Romans came with the sword; it looks across the fields where they came again with peace. It looks down on the ways by which came our first Englishmen. It stands in dazzling splendour, enthroned through the centuries, the shrine and cradle of our race.

Inside and out, there is no rarer place for us; we feel that it is worthy to be the holy of holies of English Christendom. The mind soars with its lofty nave. It has not the open space of some cathedrals, for its mighty columns take it away; but we shall have to walk a mile if we would see all that is lovely here. We shall want to see its noble monuments, its marvellous windows, its gracious little chapels, its glorious screens, its ancient paintings, its precious carvings, its splendid craftsmanship in iron and wood and glass and stone, its matchless crypt, its comfortable cloister, its romantic and historic possessions. It cannot be done in an hour; it cannot be done in a day; again and again we must come if we want to see all that is lovely here.

There is beauty enough in this cathedral to furnish a museum. There are thousands of works of art within these walls. They are 500 feet from end to end, and the roof is 80 feet above us, but nowhere in the 40,000 square feet contained within the walls do we lose the feeling of pride that all this is ours.

A marvellous achievement in stone it may seem as we enter the nave, for it is light in every part and the massive piers are impressive, but rich and warm it grows as we walk through its nave and aisles, its choir and chapels, seeking out its treasures. To those who forget all else and look upwards to the windows it is a glowing wonder of colour.

Canterbury Cathedral has the finest glass in England, a superb array of red and blue with a range of 800 years. "I will make thy windows of rubies," sang the old prophet, and his dream has come true.

Here are hundreds of old pictures in glass with their colour as fresh as a summer rose, and there are medallions from the windows of the Norman choir which Archbishop Becket himself may have seen.

We have only to look up as we enter to find some of this wonderful glass. It is in the great west window, filled with kings and patriarchs. The kings have been there since about 1450, but the 13 patriarchs have been sitting on their thrones for about 730 years. In the middle of the bottom row is Adam digging. Above the 21 big lights in this window are 30 small lights surrounded with tracery, and there is practically none of this glass that was not here in 1400. There is nothing that we see in this window that has not been here for about five centuries, and it is said that £50,000 could not buy the glass in it if it were in the market, for it has 700 square feet of glass worth at least a hundred pounds a square foot.

The rest of this wonderful glass of the 12th and 13th centuries is in three p1aces - in the southwest transept, in the north aisle of the choir, and in the Trinity Chapel. In the south-west transept the glass is in the south window, where 22 patriarchs are mixed with later glass in the three main rows; and the small lights in the tracery above have also glass put there about 1200. Nothing is allowed to spoil it all ; the organ has 3156 pipes and about a hundred miles of wire, but it is so well set that there is no blot on the splendour of this noble place. One of the transept windows (the north, with its 21 big divisions) has what is thought to be the beginning of real portraiture in windows, the portraits of Edward the First with Queen Margaret and their family, put here in 1483.

The windows of the north aisle of the choir and the Trinity Chapel are the richest and oldest the cathedral has. They are that line series beginning up the steps on the left of the screen, and continuing in the outer walls right round. The first two windows have been called the Poor Man’s Bible. There are 33 panels, all that remain of 174, and they glow in colour. They show the Wise Men bringing their gifts to Bethlehem, Herod and the shepherds, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Joseph and his brethren, Jesus in the temple, Noah in the ark, r the Six Ages of the World and the Six Ages of Man. Above them   an three small windows, each with three medallions.

All the medallions in these windows, the oldest glass in the cathedral, are of remarkable interest, for they are 12th century, the best Norman glass in England. When they were made the world had never heard of the United States or Joan of Arc. They show a page of history back beyond Magna Carta, for here we see the great Archbishop Dunstan locked out of the church at Glastonbury by the devil and let in by angels, and a picture of that most terrible scene of Archbishop Alphege, who was dragged by the Danes from Canterbury and stoned to death near Greenwich. Close by us he lies, with Dunstan near him.

Walking on round the choir and up the steps, we reach the famous Miracle Windows, nine pieces of splendour recording the doings of Thomas Becket. There are 15 windows round the choir, of which nine are old coloured glass. The second of these nine is the oldest – it has four diamond panels and six round ones. The third has eight rows of two circles each, and all but the third and fourth rows from the top are old. The fourth window has four circles with quatrefoil lights in each, and all but the second from the top are old. The top circle in this window shows the shrine of Becket as it was in 1220; it is a precious fragment, showing us what the golden shrine was like. From his shrine Becket comes to speak to a sleeping monk. The fifth stained window has 33 old pictures out of 42, and among them are three miniatures (just below one of the squares) showing the story of Bobby who fell into the Medway; we see him falling in, his friends running for his parents, and his mother dragging him out, happily alive!

It is interesting to read the queer stories told so quaintly in these Miracle Windows. In the third window are pilgrims mounted and on foot, a cripple on his knees, and a young man with toothache being cured by Becket’s cloak. In the fifth window, where Becket is talking to the sleeping monks, is the story of two lame sisters from Boxley. In the sixth window a man in charge of horses falls asleep under a bush and wakes up a leper; his mother feeds him, keeping far off, and he is healed at the shrine. In the seventh window is the story of William Kellett the carpenter, who hurt his leg with a hatchet at his bench and is cured at the shrine. Here also is Adam the forester, who was shot by a poacher and cured himself by drinking the holy water. The small Geoffrey of Winchester is in the twelfth window; the wall falls in on his cradle, women pray, the father is distracted, the mother faints and a servant throws water over her, another servant clears away the ruin and finds the cradle in 16 pieces, but Geoffrey of Winchester is unhurt! Here also is the story of William, who was digging an aqueduct when he was buried by a landslip; the bailiff runs for help and his friends dig William out. 

Between two and three thousand people can be seen in all the windows of Canterbury. The work in some of the panels is so fine that one small panel has often hundreds of bits of glass. There must be a hundred thousand bits of glass leaded in these old windows. Almost all the ironwork in the windows is old.

The light of these ancient windows falling on the choir reveals a refinement of craftsmanship in stone fit to be compared with any work around us. Round the choir runs the famous stone screen of Henry Eastry. He lies a yard or two away from it, and here his work still stands as he saw it, exquisite.

The screen facing the nave is one of the most beautiful screens ever made in stone, with kings in niches. On the left is Henry the Fifth, carved perhaps from a cast taken after death. Next to him is Richard the Second, while King Ethelbert, founder of the cathedral, is nearest the opening. On the other side are Edward the Confessor, Henry the Fourth, and the saintly Henry the Sixth with a row of crosses on his crown. This screen has been where it is for more than 500 years, with the magnificent stone screens continuing round the choir, and they rest on walls of marble older still. It is hard to believe, as we stand in the choir, that anything here is new, but among all this ancient craftsmanship is as fine a piece of modern work as we could wish to see, and it harmonises perfectly with everything about it. The beautiful wooden seats at the west end of the choir were put here in 1682, but all the rest of this magnificent woodwork, panelling, stalls, and misereres, is modern. Some of the panels open, and those who peep can see behind them Eastry’s original screen with gold borders of lions and fleur-de-lys.

The choir, opening into the nave with line iron gates of the 15th I century, is 50 yards long, and splendid everywhere. The tessellated  pavement was probably here when the golden shrine stood in the centre; the lead in the joints of some of the stones in the floor ran down from the roof in the great fire of 1174.

The three chapels round the choir are charming. Two of them are Ernulph’s work, done more than 800 years ago. One of them, St Andrew’s Chapel, leads to the Treasury and is locked; the other, St Anselm’s Chapel, with gates of Sussex iron, has one of the surprises of Canterbury, a painting of Paul throwing a snake into a fire at Malta. The fresco is 750 years old, but the figure is remarkable for its freedom and movement.

All the windows in this ancient chapel are modern (by Clayton and Bell), and one is a notable work, with five lights, showing Stephen Langton, St Anselm, Archbishop Theodore, the Black Prince and his wife, and the signing of Magna Carta. We see the Black Prince as a very handsome figure; he is at a feast serving the captive French king. Among all the magnificent modern glass in this chapel is one ancient fragment—a medallion illustrating the famous legend of St Martin dividing his cloak with a beggar.

But it is Henry the Fourth’s little shrine that is the gem of all the chapels. It is one of the most beautiful places that have come down to us. Built five centuries ago, it has the first fan-vaulting done in the cathedral. He who would be for a little while as if in another world need no farther go.

One more chapel there is; it is called the Warrior’s Chapel, but should be chiefly famous because Stephen Langton lies here. He was pushed half in and half out of the wall to make room for a rich lady who wished to sleep between her two husbands. She was Lady Margaret Holland, who married first a son of John of Gaunt and next a son of Henry the Fourth. They have been here about 500 years, surrounded by fine tombs with many sculptured figures. Here is kept the beautiful Roll of Honour Book of the Buffs; a page is turned over every day. When we were last in the cathedral the ship’s bell of H.M.S. Canterbury, broken up at Chatham, had been hung in the nave and was being struck every morning six times as the page of the roll of honour was turned over.

Nowhere under one roof is a nobler roll of ancient fame than Canterbury’s. To walk among its tombs is like walking through a history book. One king alone lies here, but what a range of statesmen, the first great statesmen of our Motherland! It is a wondrous company. Lanfranc, counsellor to the Conqueror, lies with two Saxon bishops near him. Stephen Langton, who forced King John to sign Magna Carta in his rage, sleeps not far away. Alphege and Dunstan face each other in unmarked graves: Dunstan the great statesman, and Alphege dragged in chains and beaten to death to lie through all these centuries amid this great magnificence.

A few steps from each other are the famous tombs of Henry the fourth and the Black Prince. The prince sleeps in a magnificent tomb, behind iron railings ornamented with his leopard’s head under a panel of wood on which is a 14th-century painting of the Trinity. His bronze figure has been made dazzlingly rich. Above the tomb hang the prince’s helmet, coat, shield, scabbard, and gauntlets.

The king lies here with his wife Joan of Navarre, two splendid figures. He died in the Jerusalem Chamber and was brought down the Thames. The story was told that the coffin was upset in a storm and it was said to be empty, but Henry the Fourth is here. They opened his coffin a hundred years ago and there he lay, looking exactly like the serene marble figure on the tomb. Above him, as above the Black Prince, is a painted panel of wood, the painting showing the murder of Becket.

Two other tombs here have been opened. Men have looked in recent years on an archbishop 700 years old, for in 1892 they opened the tomb of Archbishop Walter, who went with Richard Coeur de
Lion to Palestine, collected a ransom of £10,000 for him, and crowned King John. They found him lying in his coffin as in life, dressed in full canonicals, with his staff and chalice by his side. Four years before was seen the body of Archbishop Bradwardine, who died of plague in 1349.

Next to Henry the Fourth kneels the dignified figure of Dean Wotton, who was here for 25 years and served three amazing sovereigns, our Bluebeard King, the terrible Queen Mary, and the marvellous Elizabeth. Below in the same aisle are the tombs of Archbishop Bourchier, who crowned Richard the Third and joined the red and white roses by marrying Henry the Seventh of Lancaster to Elizabeth of York, and Archbishop Chichele, who made his remarkable tomb in his lifetime. He lies under a wooden canopy richly painted and gilded, with figures set in niches by Italian craftsmen. Under him is a figure of a corpse to show how pride must fall. Between these two is the monument (though not the body) of Archbishop Howley, who opened the Victorian Era by waking up Princess Victoria in the night and telling her that William the Fourth was dead.

Under the east windows, in what is known as Becket’s Crown, are monuments of an infamous man and a gentleman. The infamous man is Cardinal Pole, the last archbishop to acknowledge Rome. He died at Lambeth Palace a few hours after the wretched Queen Mary, who with his help burned alive four children, five bishops, eight gentlemen, 21 clergy, 55 women, 84 artisans, and 100 labourers. The gentleman is Archbishop Temple, who kneels magnificently in bronze on a massive base of grey Cornish granite. He was born under George the Fourth and lived to crown Edward the Seventh. Not far away is the fine bronze figure of Archbishop Davidson, wearing the robe he wore when he crowned George the Fifth.

Round the choir toward the Black Prince is the tomb of Cardinal Coligny, who fled from France in the Terror and is said to have been murdered by a servant who gave him poison in an apple. He lies in a plain tomb, as it was thought he would go back to France, but here he has lain since 1571, a stranger in a strange land. A little way beyond him, down the steps, lies Archbishop Simon of Sudbury. He is headless, for he was murdered by a mob on Tower Hill, as Archbishop Alphege had been centuries before him, and his head was hung on London Bridge. It lies in the church at Sudbury and a ball of lead takes its place in the coffin.

A little farther on, beyond the Black Prince, is a battered figure in stone. Six hundred years it has been there, and we may look at it with reverence, for under it lies Prior Henry of Eastry, who beautified the choir in front of him with his great screen and gave the Norman walls of the Chapter House their arches. Not far from him, close by the entrance to the choir, is the rich and elaborate canopy of three arches with a cornice of angels which have been here for nearly 500 years over the grave of Archbishop Kemp. It is all very beautiful. In a recess of this wall, a little way nearer the nave, are two charming coloured figures of men kneeling; it is the tomb of Dean Neville.

But those who love such monuments will find a little world to entertain them here, and it is easy to find these tombs, for most of them are clearly marked. That is a charming sculpture on the north wall of the nave which shows the burial at sea of Sir James Hales in 1529. His widow kneels below, and below her kneels a son, while the background has a scene from a village on each side of the cathedral, Hackington, where Sir James Hales lived, and Thanington, where another Hales drowned himself in the Stour. Near him the fine figure of Sir John Boys is resting on his elbow, with two lovely little daughters kneeling as they must have knelt to say their prayers 300 years ago. On the same wall is a relief of Orlando Gibbons, who wrote the music for Charles Stuart’s wedding. In the Martyrdom, facing us as we enter from the nave, lies one of the most remarkable figures in Canterbury, the oldest complete monument in the cathedral; it is Archbishop Peckham, carved in oak, under a rich canopy. The work was done by a 13th-century craftsman, and the wood figure was once probably covered with metal. Close by lies Archbishop Warham, the friend of Erasmus, who dedicated to him his Greek New Testament, the first ever printed.

After the windows and the tombs we may well look round the paintings, for Canterbury is rich in these. Where they are fading from sight on the walls they are here for us in Professor Tristram’s excellent reconstructions. All of them are round about the choir. There is a portrait of Charles Stuart and, almost facing it, the Legend of St Eustace. The scene of the murder of Becket is from the canopy of the tomb of Henry the Fourth, and the Coronation of the Virgin was also part of this tomb, painted about 1413. The Virgin is in a gold-and-ermine mantle, with a blue background. The remarkable 14th century picture of the Trinity is from the tomb of the Black Prince.

Most important of all among these pictures, however, are the 12th century portrait of St Paul and the viper in the Anselm Chapel and the 15th-century portrait of Queen Ediva in the north transept. She was the wife of Alfred’s eldest son and she gave seven Kent manors to Canterbury; they are all in the picture.

We leave this Treasure House, light and beautiful in every corner, reluctant to go, yet summoned on by what lies outside its walls or beneath its floor. Its crypt is the handsomest underground building in England, 230 feet long and 130 feet wide. The west wall of it is the one relic we can see today of the Saxon cathedral. The capitals of these Norman columns form an extraordinary series of carvings.

The pillars are ornamented alternately with the capitals - a plain capital follows a fluted pillar, then a carved capital and a plain pillar, and so on. One day 700 years ago one of the craftsmen got wrong with his reckoning and started carving a capital that should have been plain; he stopped halfway, and his work is as he left it. In the crypt is a lady chapel, surrounded by stone screens, probably given by the Black Prince; its rich vaulting, once blue picked out with stars, must have been a perfect gem. The Chapel of the Holy Innocents has the most beautiful pillars in the crypt, with line scrolled leaf-work in the capital and the whole column covered with leaves. Opening off the crypt is the small French chapel built by the Black Prince in remembrance of his marriage to the Fair Maid of Kent; it is a charming place. It has the only 14th-century bosses in the cathedral, among them the Black Prince supported by angels, and the fine head of a woman thought to be Joan the Fair Maid of Kent.

In the crypt is the oldest possession of the cathedral, two columns from the vanished church of Reculver. They once looked out upon the sea from the heights of Kent; they were brought here when the church of Reculver was pulled down, and they are about 13 centuries old, but are believed to be made from Roman materials. The men who bore King Ethelbert to his grave may have seen them.

But what is not fine in this cathedral? Its wood and stone, its iron and glass, its great masses and its exquisite small things enthral us. Whether we look at the work of yesterday, as in the charming reading desk in the nave, or at the Norman work of Lanfranc or Ernulph or Eastry or William of Sens, we may be proud that it is ours. We may walk these aisles and corridors and chapels and cloisters a hundred times, always finding something new. Perhaps it will be the carved stone faces no bigger than a shilling, at the south aisle entrance to the choir. Perhaps it will be the hundred angels bearing shields from the floor to the roof of the small Dean’s Chapel off the Martyrdom. Perhaps it will be the 16th-century Bible on a 16th-century desk, or the mitre and staff of Archbishop Walter which were buried with him in 1205 and taken from his coffin in 1892. Perhaps it will be the charming reading-desk in memory of Canon Springett, or the lifelike figure of Archbishop Benson by Sir Thomas Brock. Perhaps it will be the 1600 stone carvings in the cloisters, 800 of them on the vaulted roof and the other 800 shields of arms. They are all over 500 years old, and the 800 bosses, now brought back to their bright colours, are like a wondrous picture book. There is nothing to surpass them in any English cloister for variety of incident or exquisite beauty, and they have a display of heraldry unrivalled in the kingdom.

Few cathedrals have a more remarkable variety of bosses than Canterbury; they are of all our great building centuries, and in the Treasury is a Norman boss, a rare survival, and one of the finest in the country, with four grotesque faces, chin to chin. The roof of the nave has over 200, and the north aisle has one with two faces sharing three eyes. The western part of the cathedral has 100 coats-of-arms. It is a walk of 532 feet round the cloisters (a captivating walk if we take a small mirror to examine the thousand little figures and devices in the roof, in all their gorgeous colour), and off one side is the door of the Chapter House, with Eastry’s arcading on the Norman walls; it has been there 600 years and more, and the wagon roof has been there since the 15th century began.

One of the attractive possessions of Canterbury is St Augustine’s Chair, but it is, of course, not true that Augustine sat in it. It is 13th century, having been first used about 1200, and it is a treasured relic. But the chair Augustine sat in is probably the wooden one in the Church at Stanford Bishop in Herefordshire, where Augustine held two conferences with the Welsh bishops in 603. They met under an oak, and it is believed that there was then standing a wooden church built while the Romans were here, and that this chair was in it. The conferences with Augustine were on some point of controversy between the Welsh and Roman churches, and the Welshmen resolved that they would be guided in their action by the way Augustine received them. If he rose to greet them they would agree; if he kept his seat they would take it as a sign of haughtiness and would refuse. Augustine remained seated and the conference came to naught. The chair he sat in, supposed to be the oak chair now in Stanford Bishop church, is of Roman origin, and, like the famous Bede chair at Jarrow, is the type in which high officials used to sit in early times.

The most ancient part of the cathedral structure is probably the Saxon wall in the crypt, the small Norman arches on both sides of the choir which escaped the fire of 1174, and the work of Lanfranc in the four pillars of the great tower. Outside there are things as old and older still. Still to be seen are the marks of the great fire on Lanfranc’s walls near the ruined arches of the monks’ infirmary, and there is the magnificent Norman staircase in the Green Court. It is one of the finest outdoor staircases anywhere, leading up to a room in which Canterbury’s most famous son, Christopher Marlowe, and William Harvey went to school. The King’s School, which has the use of these Norman steps, is probably the oldest school in England; it has lately restored its Norman chapel and housed its line library in Prior Sellinge’s old room.

Of the four notable towers of Canterbury three are old and one is new. The new one is on the left of the west front as we look at it; its companion has been there 500 years, fifty years longer than the great central tower, which rises 234 feet high and is 35 feet wide. Inside it is 130 feet to the beautiful lantern roof, a piece of exquisite work which might have been finished yesterday. The most charming of all the towers, perhaps, is the small Norman tower above Saint Anselm’s Chapel, which draws all eyes to it, and not to be missed is the small Baptistry Tower on the northern walls.

We may leave this wondrous place by its great gate, or we may walk right round, lingering in sight of its ancient glories, the ruins of the monks’ infirmary, the lovely Water Tower, the Dark Entry with the Norman arcades, the entrance to the library. In any case, come back to the gate we must. It has been here since 1517 and is today almost exactly as it must have looked when Queen Elizabeth passed by. Its splendid oak panels are still in the gates swinging on their old hinges; one of them has the arms of Bishop Juxon, who was with Charles Stuart on the scaffold. The gateway is the home of the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral and it is they who have restored it. A small body are the Friends, who lay their offerings every year on the altar of this famous shrine; but in another sense the friends of Canterbury are all of us, for every child of our Motherland must love this place, the noblest haunt of peace in all our hallowed Isle.

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